Do you have a death wish…..?  GO CYCLING!

Here’s the full article from Peter: 

I grew up in the Netherlands or better known as….”Holland”.  When you are Dutch there is one thing you can be certain of and that is that you will be introduced to riding a bicycle at a very young age. Biking is extremely popular in Holland. The ANWB, which is the Dutch equivalent to the AA in this country, was founded in 1883 as “the Dutch National Association of Cyclists”. The CTC which is nowadays knows as “Cycling UK” was founded by Stanley Cotterell in Harrogate, five year previous. This shows that there was an interest in uniting and representing the interests of cyclists in Britain even before the infamous “born to bike – Dutch” felt the necessity to follow this mere good example.

There are 17 million people living in the Netherlands and these Dutch own nearly 23 million bicycles. Some people have two… for work and one for leisure. Many Dutch cycle to and from work or school….every working day. The cyclists in Holland have a very strong lobby in the Government and they make sure that they have a finger in every pie with regard to anything that could possibly conflict with their painstakingly negotiated legal rights. These rights may seem quite “OTT” in this country. I shall give you an example:

In Holland, they have this crazy law which has given cyclists an equal right of way as motorised traffic. This applies to traffic in the cities, not on normal motorways. Well….unlike in this country, in Holland you wouldn’t find cyclists on a motorway….but more about that later. As car driver in a Dutch city you will have to give right of way to a cyclist….! Really….it’s true! Here in this country, I can only imagine a Minister of Transportation with the desire to commit a most certain political suicide to suggest such a proposterous idiotic new law. But perhaps in time…..? Who knows…

In Holland as well as in Britain it’s quite common to be offered a “company car” with a certain position. In Holland one can now also choose a “company bicycle”. For the employer the purchase of a company bicycle for an employee is fully tax deductable. It’s a way to stimulate people to come to work on a bike, if the commuting distance would enable them to do so. Nowadays with the development of the E-bike (electric power assisted cycling) an increasing number of Dutch people opt for the bicycle to make the journey to –and from work.It’s scientifically proven that cycling greatly improves one’s health and it particuarly helps to deal with stress, not to mention the hugely positive impact cycling has on reducing the chances of developing heart –and vascular diseases. 

Cycling holidays are quite popular in Holland. One can cycle on dedicated paths and tracks through the rural parts of the country from one hotel to another. Your luggage is forwarded and delivered to your room in the hotel before you arrive. It’s even possible to book an inland water cruise and bring your bicycle on board. Part of the cruise you will cycle overland while, during the day, the ship is sailing to the next port. 

I believe that it is very important that school children in Britain cycle to –and from school similar to their Dutch counterparts whom, if I may just state a fact here….often cycle in the relative safety of large groups which travel from surrounding villages to Colleges and Universities in the larger cities, covering no less than 20 -25 miles every day. Here in Britain we have the “school run” instead because sending your kids to school on a bicycle is basically issueing them a death sentence. The risk of young children being scooped by a car on the narrow country lanes they would have to negotiate is simply too great. Therefore you will find in a place like Kings Lynn, where I happen to live in close proximity of, that the traffic arteries through this relatively small town are completely congested at 3pm because that’s when the mothers do their school run. Hardly anyone cycles……because it’s too dangerous. And that’s exactly what I would like to talk about in this article.

Being Dutch and a relatively experienced cyclist, I brought a bike over from Holland after one of the holidays spent there. It was my intention to make cycling trips through the Norfolk country side. There are however surprisingly few designated bicycle paths or lanes. Most of the time cyclists and pedestrians have to share the same pavement or alternatively one can cycle on the road. The latter is an adventure which leaves one in quite a vulnerable position amongst the motorised traffic (mostly cars and lorries) which consistently travel too fast on country lanes with very little regard for slower traffic. In fact, car drivers don’t give a hoot about cyclists. Most car drivers regard them as a nuisance and certainly not any reason for a responsible reduction in speed when overtaking a cyclist. Especially with opposing traffic it happens that cyclists are overtaken with just an inch to spare . No wonder that one of the current campaigns  initiated and managed by “Cycling UK” is called: “too close for comfort”. 

Not long ago I was travelling along the A1 at 60 miles an hour just after sunset; at a time when it wasn’t completely dark yet….twilight. Although I was thoroughly concentrating, I couldn’t help but noticing that I suddenly shot passed something which, with a quick glance in the rearview mirror, I identified as a cyclist. A cyclist without any lights on travelling along the A1 for goodness sake! Which complete nonsense law allows that? In Holland it’s strictly forbidden to cycle on motorways or dual carriage ways, simply because it’s far too dangerous to do so. In all fairness, the Dutch have one of the most advanced road infrastructures in the world. Over there, cyclists and pedestrians are kept completely separated from motorised traffic as much as possible throughout the entirety of the road network in the country. One can simply cycle to every corner of the country without ever having to share the road with a car or lorry. When the government decides to create a new road, or to modernize an existing one, they plan to create a dedicated cycle path next to the main road, separated by a grass verge. 

By now you are wondering what this is all leading up to because at some point this article will need to be related to the topic of this blog. Well, earlier in this article I mentioned that cycling is a great way of relieving stress. Cycling on a dedicated path through the woods, forests and beautiful British country side will be an absolute stress reliever. When you have encountered stress at work…..that 30 minute bike ride to your home will help to relevate things and you will undoudtedly arrive home in a better mood sparing your spouse all the details of your frustrations and avoiding many hours of counselling as well. But I’m afraid it’s not to be in this country. The few times that I cycled here in Norfolk have now been firmly added to some of the most frightening experiences in my life. Just to provide you with a few more facts:

At the turn of the century we had more bicycles in Europe than cars. 200 million as opposed to 160 million to be precise. Currently here in Britain (only) 2 million people use a cycle on a daily basis. This represents 3% of the entire population. In Holland this percentage is 27%.

I do see many cyclists wearing helmets here in Britain. It’s scientifically proven that wearing a helmet does not protect you as much as a good cycling infrastructure. In Holland only 0.1% of cyclists wear a helmet. The Dutch have fewer than 20 fatal accidents involving cyclists per 1 billion cycled kilometers. By comparison: in Finland….where 20% of all cyclists wear a helmet there are 50 fatal accidents involving cyclists per 1 billion cycled kilometers. So….it’s all very well that “Cycling UK” is pushing their “too close for comfort campaign” but what they should really focus on, is a safe and modern cycling infrastructure which would address some of the (safety) issues that I have tried to address in this article. I believe that it will take decades of “lobbying” with the Government, followed by another number of decades before one will see a cycle infrastructure in this country which will be fairly similar to what the Dutch have created for themselves. It’s taken them several decades to arrive at the current level of sophistication of their cycling infrastructure. Obviously there are exceptions. The city of Cambridge has a truly fantastic cycling infrastructure. The relatively flat roads are very suitable for biking. The downside is that the number of cyclists has now grown to an extent where controlling them has become virtually impossible. They cycle through red lights, cross the roads in front of cars and “take right of way” whenever it suits them. This obviously further contributes to the already poor reputation of cyclists in British traffic. 

Anyway… cut a long story short: if you felt compelled to take your bicycle from the shed and blow the dust and cobwebs away followed by a nice relaxed trip through the countryside…truly relieving any level of stress while you experience the unique sensation of the wind blowing through your hair…..I would say….”don’t bother”. 

The facts don’t lie:….here in Britain, in 2016….no less than 18.477 cyclists were involved in an accident of which 3.397 were seriously injured and 102 got killed. In Holland….in the same year….189 fatal bicycle accident victims. This seems a lot but please bear in mind that this is in relation to the number of cyclists on the Dutch roads on a daily basis. The relatively high number of fatal accidents amongst cyclists in Holland can be explained by a few factors: a high percentage of fatal accidents by cyclists over the age of 75 and 80 respectively. (a high percentage of elderly Dutch still cycle and in recent years were also responsible for the greatest increase in E-bike sales). The percentage of “E-bikes”, which are capable of twice the speed of a normal bicycle, has grown exponentially in Holland. 1 in 3 bicycles in Holland is an E-bike. Also the huge number of bikes in the Dutch cities, still in close proximity of motorised traffic despite the laws and regulations and safety measures is something to consider. Finally, the distances cycled in Holland are far greater than in the UK. The country is flat and is very suitable for biking. 

These factors have contributed to a relatively high percentage of fatal accidents. However when compared with the total distance cycled by the Dutch and cyclist here in the UK per year than the percentage of fatal accidents involving cyclists in Holland is actually relatively low. I am mentioning this specifically because the sales of E-bikes in the UK has grown from 5% in 2015 to 12% in 2016 and continues to do so. We may soon be facing a similar trend with regard to accidents involving cyclists on the British roads especially due to the lack of an appropriate infrastructure for this group in traffic. The good news is, that the overall number of fatal accidents in traffic in this country is showing a decline but I was not able to find any data on how this compares to just the group of cyclists in the UK. 

Anyway the conclusion is, “we aren’t there yet”……not by a long way. By all means join “Cycling UK” because only a very strong lobby will create the legislative changes which will contribute to safer cycling in this country. But until that’s the case I would leave my bicycle in the shed. Who knows, fifty years from now….it may be worth some money! 

By |2018-05-26T10:52:10+00:00May 26th, 2018|Your Voice|0 Comments

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